Mich. lawmakers approve right-to-work legislation
LANSING, MIch. — Republicans rushed right-towork legislation through the Michigan Legislature on Thursday, drawing raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.
With six-vote margins in both chambers, the House and Senate approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees.
Separate legislation dealing with public-sector unions was expected to come later.
Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment appears unlikely until next week. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously had said repeatedly that rightto-work was “not on my agenda,” told reporters Thursday he would sign the measures.
A victory in Michigan would give the right-towork movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor already has suffered several body blows. Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin recently pushed through legislation curbing union rights, sparking massive protests.
Even before the Mich- igan bills surfaced, protesters streamed inside the Capitol preparing for what appeared inevitable after Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville announced at a news conference they were putting the issue on a fast track.
“This is all about taking care of the hard-working workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices,” Snyder said.
“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan; it is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.
But Democrats said the legislation — and Republicans’ tactics — would poison the state’s political atmosphere.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order during the Senate debate as Democrats attacked the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley.
At one point, a man yelled, “We will remember in November.”
The decision to push forward in the waning days of the Legislature’s lame-duck session infuriated outnumbered Dem- ocrats, who resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to slow action but were powerless to block the bills.
House Democrats did walk out briefly Thursday in protest of the Capitol being closed.
About 2,500 visitors were inside the Capitol, where their shouts reverberated off stone halls and frequently could be heard inside the ornate chambers.
After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course Thursday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.
Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said she was “livid.”
“These guys have lied to us all along the way,” she said. “They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they’re going to hightail it out of town. It’s cowardly.”